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[July 16, 2013]
Telegram to Twitter and telepathy
Jul 16, 2013 (Mint - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Nostalgia is a seductive liar, said George Wildman Ball, an American diplomat who died in 1994. This will always prove true in the field of communications as the economics dictates how long a mode of communication stays alive. Saying goodbye, therefore, to the telegram after 162 years may indeed be hard for many -- though not all will have fond memories of the news that a telegram brought. But the telecommunications ministry said it lost $250 million in the last seven years, which prompted it to end the service.
That said, telegrams were a vital means of communication for millions of Indians, followed by telephones, and finally the first mobile telephone in 1995 and Internet the same year. And one can surely argue that if the telegram were to be in the hands of the private sector, it may have survived longer. However, that argument does not hold true since most of these technologies were incubated and developed for the military, and later went viral as the business community saw a use for them. Besides, the telegraph department was always a monopoly of the Indian government.
Also, companies did well with the fax (short for facsimile) machine and telephone. But today's world is much different. Even landlines are going out of fashion with the cellphone taking over along with laptops and tablets that are singing the requiem of the desktop personal computer -- in metros to begin with. Also we have SMS, emails, instant messengers, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter with its 140-character tweets and Facebook posts -- all that remind you of the short messages sent by Morse code and telegrams. And, then, we simultaneously have videoconferencing tools such as Microsoft Corp.'s Skype and unified communications (UC) or collaboration tools that sync data on the fly.
In the days before mobile phones and the Internet, the telegraph network was the main form of long-distance communication, with 20 million messages dispatched from India during the subcontinent's bloody partition in 1947, reported the AFP on Monday. But look at the numbers today.
The first SMS was sent about 20 years ago, with the first commercial service launching a couple of years later. There were about 3.5 billion P2P (person to person) SMS users in 2012, according to research firm Informa Telecoms and Media, but around 586.3 million users of OTT (over the top) messaging -- in simple terms, mobile messaging apps. Each OTT user sent an average of 32.6 OTT messages a day, compared with just five SMS messages per day per P2P SMS user, implying that OTT-messaging users are sending more than six times as many messages as P2P SMS users do. Of course, Informa does not predict the death of SMS, not at least "anytime soon".
But even SMS is having a hard time with US-based WhatsApp, China's WeChat and apps such as Nimbuzz and Hike from India. US-based WhatsApp is the clear market leader with more than 250 million active users while Twitter had a little over 200 million users in December, and Microsoft Corp.'s online videoconferencing messenger Skype around 280 million users in October. WeChat from China-based Tencent Holdings Ltd isn't too far behind WhatsApp with 195 million users on 15 May, according to the company's quarterly results. Nimbuzz, which was founded in the Netherlands but now claims to be fully developed out of India, has around 150 million users.
If that does not impress, consider these numbers. Facebook users share over 300 million images each day while Instagram users post around 45 million. Vine lured more than 13 million people in less than six months and Snapchat has about 200 million messages a day.
Going forward, we have Google Glass that is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD), developed by Google Inc. The glasses take advantage of a technology called Augmented Reality or AR, which is defined as the overlay of graphics onto a video stream or other real-time display. The technology, which was envisioned by Ivan Sutherland who devised the first augmented reality system in 1968, is flowering only now with customised applications in industrial automation, theme parks, sports television, military displays, and online marketing.
In 2002, for instance, the entire marketing industry went wild with excitement seeing Tom Cruise encountering interactive billboards and iris-triggered direct marketing in Minority Report. On 16 November 2010, Intel Capital invested in Amsterdam-headquartered Layar that brings AR to smartphone users. All you would need is an internet connection (unlimited data plan recommended), camera, GPS and compass to be able to use Layar -- all of which are typically bundled with smartphones.
Where does communication go next? In the 70s, US-based Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, started projects such as Silent Talk to introduce telepathic techniques to increase communications between soldiers on battlefield. Some may be familiar with the term neuromarketing, which studies consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. In fact, an Italian firm, Telepathy Advertising, a business unit of KOOK Artagency and Flyer Communication, offers "telepathy advertising" as a service, saying that "Unfortunately telepathy is a unique talent reserved to few people in the world and some of the best resources are in our team." Regardless of the claim, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku points out that when we take MRI and EEG scans of the brain, decipher them using computers, and shoot that information to another person, we are already using radio-enhanced telepathy. And in a few years, with the understanding of concepts such as quantum entanglement -- defined as a phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated, according to ScienceDaily -- telepathy may become common with future generations treating telepathy as a telegram, SMS, email or instant messaging (IM).
Of course, all these modes of communication will make it easier for an unscrupulous government to pry on its citizens, ostensibly to protect security interests and use the garb of "lawful interception", whatever that means.
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